Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How did long-debunked "Heimlich Operation" lie get into Publishers Weekly review of my father's autobiography?

In about six weeks, Prometheus Books is publishing my father's memoir, Heimlich's Maneuvers: My Seventy Year of Lifesaving Innovations.

Last week I noticed that my father -- or probably someone pretending to be him since he's almost 94 and lives in a retirement community in Cincinnati -- started the Twitter account @henryjheimlich, presumably to generate some book buzz.

This Tweet about a recent review of the book in Publishers Weekly got my attention:

From the November 25 review:
(Dr. Heimlich) proudly shares his astounding list of medical inventions, including a “reversed gastric tube operation” that allowed patients with damaged esophagi to eat again....

Via Heimlich falsely claims he invented surgical procedure -- Romanian replaced esophagus years before by Robert Anglen on the front page of the March 16, 2003 Cincinnati Enquirer:
For more than 40 years, Cincinnati icon Dr. Henry Heimlich has been taking credit for a world-famous (Reversed Gastric Tube) operation that was actually developed first by a Romanian surgeon behind the Iron Curtain.
In interviews, biographies and promotional materials, Heimlich has told anyone who would listen that he performed the world's first total organ replacement.
But even before Heimlich wrote his first article about the "Heimlich Operation" on dogs in 1955, the procedure had been performed dozens of times on humans by Romanian surgeon Dr. Dan Gavriliu, an Enquirer investigation has found.
Gavriliu now calls Heimlich a "liar and a thief." He says Heimlich not only took credit for the operation, but also lied when he said they co-authored a paper for an international surgery conference.
..."Let Heimlich be a pig if he wants to steal an operation and put his name on it," says retired New York surgeon Eugene Albu. "He changed the name from the Gavriliu Operation to the Gavriliu-Heimlich Operation. Then it became the Heimlich Operation later on."

Albu, 78, was a professor at New York's Albert Einstein University. Before coming to America in 1978, he worked with Gavriliu on the reversed gastric tube operation in Romania and throughout Europe.
And as I reported a couple months ago, Lisa Michalski at Prometheus wrote me that in his book, my father credits Dr. Gavriliu with inventing the operation.

So how did the bogus information make it into the Publishers Weekly review?

I don't know, but I sent an inquiry to Louisa Ermelino, PW's Reviews Director, who promptly agreed to look into the matter. (When I have more info, I'll post an update.)

By the way, last week I subscribed to my father's Twitter account.

That didn't last long: